Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Happy New Year!

The Granduca Madonna, Raphael (Raffaello), 1504

 Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

St Luke 2:16-21

So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Adoration of the Shepherds, Caravaggio, 1609

 Museo Regionale, Messina, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]


[Alternative] Antiphona ad introitum    Entrance Antiphon

Cf. Isaiah 9:1, 5; Luke 1:33

Lux fulgebit hodie super nos,

Today a light will shine upon us,

quia natus est nobis Dominus;

for the Lord is born for us;

et vocabitur admirabilis, Deus,

 and he will be called Wondrous God,

Princeps pacis, Pater futuri saeculi

 Prnce of peace, Father of future ages:

cuius regni non erit finis.

 and his reign will be without end.

This is sung in the chant of the Ambrosian Rite, used in the Archdiocese of Milan.


A Mhuire Mháthair, Mother Mary


This hymn in Irish is sung to the melody of the Maori song Pokarekare Ana. Below is your editor’s translation.

Mother Mary, this is my prayer,

that Jesus will live for ever in my heart.

Ave Maria, Ave, my love!

You are my mother and the Mother of God.

Mother Mary, throughout my life,

be with me as a protection against every danger.

Ave Maria, Ave, my love!

You are my mother and the Mother of God.

Mother Mary, full of grace,

May you be with me at the hour of my death.

Ave Maria, Ave, my love!

You are my mother and the Mother of God.

Happy New Year!

 Manigong Bagong Taon!

 Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise!

Peace and Justice at Christmas. 20 December 2014.

Peace and Justice at Christmas

by Fr Shay Cullen

The Flight into Egypt, Melchior Broederlam, 1393-99

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, France [Web Gallery of Art]


WITH Christmas coming, we see the shining stars and message of peace. So many need peace: peace of heart and mind, soul and spirit, in the family and in friendships, in community, and above all peace to end the violence in the land of Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.

Over a million refugees are perishing in Jordan and Turkey huddled in the cold winter tents of the refugee camps. Their Christmas will be just a little better than that endured by the parents of Jesus of Nazareth on the night of his birth and days after.

They too were refugees and asylum seekers and fled to Egypt to escape the tyrant Herod.

Continue here.

The Story of the Christmas Lights. 23 December 2014

by Fr Shay Cullen

Aeta Girls with their lamps that are re-charged by sunlight


Hiking uphill through the hot, tropical afternoon to the Aeta village of Baliwet, San Marcelino carrying our loaded backpacks was a challenge in itself. The happy thought of bringing some Christmas cheer into the lives of the very poor indigenous people kept us going. Our mission was to bring Christmas lights into their lives. It was inspiring and encouraging.

The only reward for our days hiking would be the healthy exercise, fresh mountain air, the aroma of flowers and fauna wafting from the forest vegetation and at the end of our journey would be the simple mountain food of the native people. There we looked forward to the Christmas joy and smiles that would light up the people’s faces when we opened our gifts. That would make it all worthwhile. Sharing with others is the joy of living.

Continue here.

Obituary of Columban Fr Mark Kavanagh and funeral homily.

Fr Mark Kavanagh (1926 – 2014)

This photo was taken at a meeting of Columbans in 1988 in Scala Retreat House, Bacolod City.


St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin [Wikipedia]

Father Mark was born in the St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral Parish in Dublin on 27 January 1926 and lived on the North Circular Road. He grew up in a family of five sisters and three brothers. He received his primary and secondary education in O’Connell Schools.

Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice and Daniel O’Connell

He entered the Columbans in 1944 and spent the next seven years in St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan. Ordained on 21 December 1950 he was appointed to the Philippines.

Mount Kanlaon, Negros [Wikipedia]

The island of Negros, specifically the southern part of Negros Occidental, then part of the Diocese of Bacolod and now the Diocese of Kabankalan, became Father Mark’s home for most of the next fifty years. The place sugar workers were to play in his life and ministry began with an early assignment as chaplain at Binalbagan-Isabela Sugar Company, known as ‘Biscom’. 

Cut sugarcane [Wikipedia]

Along with pastoral roles Father Mark soon found himself as part of the Columban leadership team in the area, a position he held for the rest of his time there. This was surely a testament to the kind of man Mark was and in the turbulent times of the 1970s his wisdom, humor and human kindness helped maintain the bonds among the Columbans in Negros. This was particularly true during the saga of the Negros Nine when Fr Niall O’Brien, Fr Brian Gore and others, were jailed on trumped-up charges of murder. The violence and intimidation of those times was linked to the struggle of the sugar workers for a life beyond a feudal serf.

Kabankalan City [Wikipedia]

Father Mark was a friend and mentor of all young  Columbans arriving in Negros at that time. Most of these served with him in either Kabankalan or Binalbagan. He was very supportive of new initiatives like Fr Niall O’Brien’s Retreat Movement for men and the decision of Fr Brian Gore and Fr John Brazil to move out from the parish of Kabankalan to live in the Barrio of Oringao in the mid 1970s to set up Basic Christian Communities in neighbring villages. These were later developed into 16 parishes in Southern Negros.

The visit to Negros of his brother Bishop James Kavanagh, then an auxiliary bishop of Dublin, his sister Breda and her husband Michael Mangan in the early 1980s was deeply appreciated by Father Mark. He constantly kept in touch with his family and when he retired to Ireland he chose to live with Breda and Michael until illness necessitated a move to the Columban Nursing Home in Dalgan Park. He will long be remembered for his humor and his supportive and caring role for all that continued until he died in Blanchardstown Hospital on 23 December 2014.

May he rest in peace.

Clerys, O’Connell Street, Dublin [Wikipedia]

Many Columbans bought their suits and other clothing here.

Homily for Funeral Mass of Mark Kavanagh

Fr Donal Hogan, 26 December 2014

My abiding memory of Mark is when as Superior in Negros he lived in Batang, HImamaylan City, our HQ, welcoming us from the parishes and having the interest and the time and the concern to listen to each of us with all our concerns.  He was a man of presence – being there for us. He didn’t feel he always had to be doing things.  He was more for Being. Being present to – like Mary in the story of Martha and Mary.  Martha was anxiously doing things for the Lord and complained that Mary was just sitting there doing nothing. Jesus said Mary has chosen the better part. For she was not distracted with many things but sat at the Lord’s feet listening to him and being with him. Mark was like that for us. 

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Vermeer c.1654-55 

National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh [Web Gallery of Art]

What a gift he was to the Columbans in Negros and to the and to the people of the parishes in which he served especially Kabankalan, Binalbagan and Cauayan.  There will be much weeping in Negros for their beloved parish priest. The Filipino priests too will mourn him for he was always supportive of them and of the Sisters in all their initiatives.

Young Columbans always found him open and supportive of  of new apostolic initiatives.  Those in difficulties found him a rock of support.  I think especially of Niall O’Brien, Brian Gore and all the Negros Nine when in jail on false charges. He constantly visited them and attended the court case – being present in the front row.  Again his presence was a source  of comfort and strength for them.

His sense of humour so often helped us to see things in their proper perspective and not take ourselves too seriously.At that time there was talk of the possibility of all of us being deported if we continued with our actions on behalf of justice.  At that time Mark’s close friend Eugene McGeough had not come down from his mountain parish for a few months.  Mark quipped, ‘If we are all going to be kicked out I hope someone remembers to go up and tell McGeough.’ Jerry O’Connor’s comment was, ‘If you see a blur at Manila Airport, that’ll be me.’

Malahide, County Dublin [Wikipedia]

The visit of his brother James, the Bishop, and his sister Breda and brother-in-law Michael meant so much to Mark.  It gave him a great boost.  For like St Paul he also had a thorn in the flesh – for Mark this was recurring depression.  And the words of the Lord to Mark were the same as to Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’.  And I think this cross helped Mark to better understand the human frailty of others and to be compassionate to all.  In 1997 when this illness became acute I accompanied Mark home to Ireland. When we arrived at Dublin Airport I knew everything was going to be alright.  For there to meet him with a warm embrace were his brother Jim, sister Breda and Michael his brother-in-law. No wonder he chose to spend his retirement with them in Malahide, until eventually illness necessitated transfer to our Nursing Home here in Dalgan.  The staff here loved his wit and banter and cared for him as if he was one of their own family.

As Redemptorist  Pat Horgan said of Mark, ‘He was a great character, a great priest, a great Columban and a great leader.’

Jimmy Martin too described him as ‘a really great man whom we were blessed to have as Superior during the difficult times of Martial Law.’  He added ‘I am sure Brendan O’Connell, Ned Gill, Niall O’Brien, and Eugene McGeough are all jostling to greet him in the house of the Lord.’

Mark, thank you on behalf of all whose lives you have touched.

May you now rest in Peace.

Finally, as we used to pray in Ilongo, the language of Negros Occidental, HATAGI SIA, GINOO, SANG PAHUWAY MO NGA DAYON, Grant him eternal rest, O Lord.

O’Connell Monument, O’Connell Street, Dublin [Wikipedia]

A number of people described Father Mark to your editor as ‘a real Dub’. ‘Dub’ is the nickname for Dubliners. Like Father Mark, your editor is also a ‘Dub’ and went to the same school as he did, though some years after him. The school, and Dublin’s main street, are named after Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’. 

The unofficial anthem of Dubliners is the song ‘Molly Malone’, also known as ‘Cockles and Mussels’. Here is a version in Dutch by Ancora, which your editor came across only the other day. I’m sure that Father Mark would have enjoyed it. I know that he wasn’t averse to a party!

‘The parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.’ Sunday Reflections, Feast of the Holy Family

Presentation in the Temple, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1671

 Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

The above include alternative First and Second readings and Responsorial Psalms for Year B. This Gospel is always read in Year B.

Gospel Luke 2:22-40 [or Luke 2:22, 39-40]  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,  a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”  And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.  Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.] When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The text in [square brackets] may be omitted.

Before Christmas we listened to the words of St Matthew: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:18-21)

Joseph, by obeying God’s messenger and by naming the Son his wife Mary bore, became the legal father of Jesus. The Church honours him above all as the Husband of Mary. St John XXIII added the words and blessed Joseph, her Spouseto the Roman Canon, now also known as the First Eucharistic Prayer, while Pope Francis has included that phrase in the other three main Eucharistic Prayers. It was as the Husband of Mary that St Joseph took care of her and of Jesus. It was St Joseph whom Jesus knew asDad/Papa/Tatay. It was from St Joseph that Jesus, God who became Man, learned, in his humanity, to grow into manhood.

St Joseph submitted his whole being, as did his wife Mary, to doing God’s will. Jesus was flesh of her flesh, but not of his. Yet he loved Jesus as if he was his own son, first of all by loving his mother.

The Census at Bethlehem (detail) Pieter Bruegel the Elder,1566

 Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels [Web Gallery of Art]

Peter Bruegel the Elder, maybe the first major painter to focus on the lives of ordinary people, captures the quiet responsibility of St Joseph, leading the donkey on which the heavily pregnant Mary is riding. The picture above is a detail of the full painting that I used on Christmas Eve. Bruegel has transposed Bethlehem to a village in the Netherlands in the middle of winter. He captures the reality that the Holy Family were ‘nobodies’. None of the people around notices them. They too are caught up in the red tape of their day, having to travel long distances to have their names registered.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in the Presentation in the Temple shows St Joseph as a man who is somewhat shy, not wanting to be in the limelight, but standing protectively over Mary as she kneels before Jesus held in the arms of Simeon, with Anna the Prophetess in the background. St Joseph here reminds me very much of my own father.

And in the video of the Presentation what strikes me is that St Joseph is the one carrying Jesus. But before he hands the infant to Simeon he quietly asks Mary’s permission to do so. Mary hands Jesus back to Joseph after receiving him from Simeon and it is St Joseph, as head of the Holy Family, who presents the infant to the priest who offers him to God. The priest has no idea who this child of poor parents really is.

On 17 November Pope Francis said: It is necessary to insist on the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its intangible assets. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s growth and emotional development. This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the ‘indispensable’ contribution of marriage to society, a contribution which ‘transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple’ (n. 66). And this is why I am grateful to you for the emphasis that your colloquium has placed on the benefits that marriage can provide children, the spouses themselves, and society.

There have always been children who have grown up without one or both parents. In the Bible they are seen as young persons in need of special care from the wider community. I have known many single parents, some of them widowed, raising their children lovingly and heroically. But this is not the norm.

Incredibly, many within the last two or three decades have come to dismiss the importance of husband/father and wife/mother, have come to dismiss the conception and birth of children in the way that God intended.


Pope Francis with a young recovering addict

 World Youth Day 2013, Rio de Janeiro [Wikipedia]

Though without a family of my own I have for many years experienced the title ‘Father’ as a call to be one in a number of senses: a ‘spiritual father’ who leads others to our Heavenly Father through his Son Jesus Christ, and a father-figure to young persons who may have lost their father or who may even have been abused by their father or by other fatherly figures in whom they should have been able to trust.

As a man, I see today’s Feast of the Holy Family to be a call especially to us men to be like St Joseph, to be responsible, to be loving; if married to love our wives above all, if not, to be like fathers to young persons who come into our lives in whatever way and for whatever reason.

As a priest I am grateful to God for calling me not only to be ‘Father’ but to be a father to many in the sense that St Joseph was truly a father to Jesus.


Some Christmas Songs


Good King Wenceslas

This English Christmas carol, very popular also in Ireland, is hardly known at all in the Philippines.

In Dulce Jubilo

The melody of this carol goes back at least to 1400. It is sung here by Libera, a London-based boys’ choir.

A Christmas Reflection from Pakistan


Fr Tomás King is a Columban priest from Ireland who works in the Diocese of Hyderabad, in the Sindh Province of Pakistan. This is his Christmas reflection.

View of Nagarparkar City from Karoonjhar Mountains

CHRISTMAS 2014, Nagarparkar

Dear Friends, greetings from Pakistan. I hope all is well with you as you prepare to celebrate Christmas. 

Last weekend I sat down to put a few thoughts together to send as Christmas greetings. I was hoping to focus on the good news story for Pakistan in recent weeks; that being the teenager Malala Yousafzai being joint winner of the Nobel Peace prize along with, Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian    child rights activist. Malala was shot a few years ago by the Taliban, but survived.  Her offence; to go to school, as well as to demand education for all children, particularly girls. Malala, in her acceptance speech, she asked her government to ‘build schools and not tanks’. 
But just a few days later, Tuesday 16th the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar city and killed 148 people, most of whom, 132, were children. It is simply incomprehensible, impossible to understand the mentality that would motivate one to carry out such acts.The children were systematically and intentionally targeted, so as to cause as much death, damage and destruction as possible.  

What kind of response is possible, and necessary to such pure hatred? Are there any hints of answers in the Christmas story? St Luke’s Gospel tells us that the ‘shepherds were keeping watch in the night’. What were they looking for? Maybe for something to brighten up their difficult lives. Maybe they were looking for the ‘the light that shone in the darkness’ which is the image used in St John’s Gospel to describe Jesus’ presence among us. How does light shine in darkness, as the image seems to suggest?

Christ being born in our world, is very much about finding God inside of ordinary every day events. And also it seems, even in the darkness of sin, violence, war, greed and the other negative realities that are part of our world, difficult as that is. Christmas is about light being seen inside of darkness. Christmas invites and challenges us to watch like the shepherds when we look at the world and see the light which is God’s presence, grace, graciousness, forgiveness, love, unselfishness and innocence.

We also need the attitude and disposition of Mary. St Luke’s Gospel also tells us that when Mary heard from the shepherd what Jesus was to become her response was to ‘treasure all these things and ponder them in her heart’.  There is a lot in this appearance of God in the world that we cannot understand. But ‘watching,’ ‘treasuring’ and ‘pondering’ will help us on the way to understanding and enable us to give and receive the blessing, the ‘benediction’ that Rabindranath Tagore speaks off below:


Bless this little heart, this soul that has won the kiss of heaven for our earth. 
He loves the light of the sun, he loves the sight of his mother’s face. 
He has not learned to despise the dust, and to hanker after gold. 
Clasp him to your heart and bless him. 
He has come into this land of an hundred cross-roads. 
I know not how he chose you from the crowd, came to your door, and grasped you hand to ask his way. He will follow you, laughing the talking, and not a doubt in his heart. 
Keep his trust, lead him straight and bless him. 
Lay your hand on his head, and pray that though the waves underneath grow threatening, 
yet the breath from above may come and fill his sails and waft him to the heaven of peace. 
Forget him not in your hurry, let him come to your heart and bless him.  

Peace and Blessings this Christmas for the coming year.

Father Tomás

Adoration of the Shepherds, El Greco, c.1610
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [Web Gallery of Art]


Photos from Wikipedia.

Columban Fr Mark Kavanagh RIP

Fr Mark Kavanagh (1926 – 2014)

From Fr Patrick Raleigh, Regional Director, Ireland, 23 December 2014

This morning, 23 December at around 10.00 am, Fr Mark Kavanagh died. He was a member of the very large class of 1950. He was brother of the late Bishop James Kavanagh, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin. Father  Mark had been in ill health for some time and a little over a week ago he fell in his room here in the Nursing Home inSt Columban’s, Dalgan Park [the former seminary of the Columbans in Ireland] and fractured his hip. His condition took a turn for the worse  and the doctor told me that he was a seriously ill person. He rallied a little and depending on his condition the hope was that he would have been operated on this morning. Early morning his condition got worse. He died at James Connolly Memorial Hospital in Blanchardstown, County Dublin.
Father Mark was a very colourful person. He was a true ‘Dub’ [nickname for people from Dublin] and the family lived in North Circular Road, Dublin. He spent most of his missionary life in Negros Occidental [In the southern part of the Diocese of Bacolod, the area that became the Diocese of Kabankalan in 1987] and was a very supportive person of the underdog. We thank Father Mark for his huge contribution to Columban Mission in the Philippines and elsewhere. He will be missed here in Dalgan. He had a great sense of humour. When I visited him in Blanchardstown Hospital on Sunday night he had two questions for me: Did you bring me a drop of whiskey and when are you going to get me out of here?  The Presentation Sisters were very loyal friends to Father Mark and he to them.
It has now been confirmed that his funeral arrangements are as follows: Removal, Friday evening, 26 December, in Dalgan at 7.30pm, the Feast of St Stephen. Father Mark’s Funeral Mass will be on Saturday morning at 11.0  followed by burial in the Community Cemetery here in Dalgan. He is survived by one sister, Brid Mangan, who is in a nursing home, and also by nieces.
[The Removal is the traditional service of the word held in the church the evening before the burial. The only Mass celebrated on the occasion of a death in Ireland is the funeral Mass.]
An obituary will follow.

‘Let it be with me according to your word. ‘ Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

The Annunciation, El Greco, 1595-1600

 Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest, Hungary [Web Gallery of Art]


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa) 

Gospel Luke 1:26-38  (New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

The Annunciation, Gerard David, 1506

 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [Web Gallery of Art]

The Incarnation

 by St John of the Cross

Then He summoned an archangel, 

 Saint Gabriel: and when he came, 

 Sent him forth to find a maiden,      

     Mary was her name.

Only through her consenting love 

 Could the mystery be preferred 

 That the Trinity in human      

     Flesh might clothe the Word.

Though the three Persons worked the wonder

 It only happened to the One. 

 So was the Word made incarnation    

      In Mary’s womb, a son.

So He who only had a Father 

 Now had a Mother undefiled,

Though not as ordinary maids      

     Had she conceived the Child.

By Mary, and with her own flesh 

 He was clothed in His own frame: 

 Both Son of God and Son of Man      

     Together had one name.

              [Translation by Roy Campbell]

In both paintings above Mary has the word of God, the Hebrew Bible, what we Christians call the Old Testament, open in front of her. And when she says, let it be with me according to your word, she is accepting the Word. The opening words of St John’s Gospel, read at the Mass During the Day on Christmas Day and read at the end of every Mass in the Extraordinary Form, tells us who the Word is: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Further on, in Verse 14, St John writes those magnificent words that are at the centre of our faith: And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes what St John of the Cross said about this: In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word – and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.

The Annunciation in an initial R, Fra Angelico, c.1430

 Museo di San Marco, Florence [Web Gallery of Art]

‘Silence’ is not what most of us associate with the days coming up to Christmas. But the Church invites us to enter into an inner silence during these days, difficult though that may be. The above is on a parchment, part of a Missal, which in the old days included the readings during Mass. Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar, was declared ‘Blessed’ by St John Paul II in 1982. This work again invites us into contemplation of the wondrous event of the Annunciation, the moment of the Incarnation when God became Man in the womb of Mary.

Julian of Vézelay (c.1080 – 1165), a French Benedictine monk, reflects on the silence into which Jesus entered, the silence that Mary bore in our heart, the silence that God invites us to enter at this time:

There came a deep silence. Everything was still. The voices of prophets and apostles were hushed, since the prophets had already delivered their message, while the time for the apostles’ preaching had yet to come. Between these two proclamations a period of silence intervened, and in the midst of this silence the Father’s almighty Word leaped down from his royal throne. There is a beautiful fitness here: in the intervening silence the Mediator between God and the human race also intervened, coming as a human being to human beings, as mortal to mortals, to save the dead from death.

 I pray that the Word of the Lord may come again today to those who are silent, and that we may hear what the Lord God says to us in our hearts. Let us silence the desires and importunings of the flesh and the vainglorious fantasies of our imagination, so that we can freely hear what the Spirit is saying. Let our ears be attuned to the voice that is heard above the vault of heaven, for the Spirit of life is always speaking to our souls; as scripture says, a voice is heard above the firmament which hangs over our heads. But as long as we fix our attention on other things, we do not hear what the Spirit is saying to us.


Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord

your grace into our hearts,

that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son

was made known by the message of an Angel,

may by his Passion and Cross

be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.

Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

Gabriel’s Message. An old Basque carol.

1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
‘All hail’ said he ‘thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

2. ‘For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said,
‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.’
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

4. Of her, Emanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
‘Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!


Antiphona ad Communionem  Communion Antiphon  Isaiah 7:14

Ecce Virgo concipiet et pariet filium;

Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son;

et vocabitur nomen eius Emmanuel.

and his name will be called Emmanuel.

Secret Torture Chambers Exposed. Fr Shay Cullen’s Reflections, 15 December 2014

by Fr Shay Cullen

Mocking of Christ, Vecellio Tiziano, 1570-75

Art Museum, Saint Louis, USA [Web Gallery of Art]

Who would ever imagine that a secret torture squad attached to the Philippine National Police would use a crudely made wheel of fortune to select the torture technique they would use on their victims? Torture is outlawed by international convention and the Philippine Penal Code yet in 2009 a special law Republic Act 9745 was passed to totally ban it. However, it is still common practice. The recently launched investigative report by Amnesty International stated that police torture ‘is commonplace in the Philippines and impunity for it is the norm . . .’ Titled ‘Above the Law: Police Torture in the Philippines’, the Amnesty International researchers with local human rights defenders uncovered secret detention centers and the notorious ‘Wheel of Fortune’ in a torture chamber in Laguna, south of Manila.

The shocking discovery indicated that this trained squad used torture for a sordid and sick kind of entertainment. While the suspects screamed through their gags from the excruciating pain of electric shock the torturers laughed.

The US senate report on torture and disappearances of suspects details shocking torture and abuse and many of the torture techniques detailed in the report are similar to what the Philippine Police use also. The Philippine Police trained in Fort Bragg and elsewhere in the USA may have learned their torture techniques from their US trainers. We sincerely hope not.

As many as 43 prisoner survivors, some rescued by Filipino human rights campaigners who risk their lives to help the victims, said they suffered grave torture. 23 of them were courageous and defiant enough to file criminal charges against the police.

There is not much hope either among them that justice will ever be seen. The police enjoy a high level of impunity. Death squads also murder suspects. They are set up by military and local mayors, governors and other powerful politicians to protect their interests, eliminate political rivals or protect their secret criminal enterprise from take-over by a rival. They also sow terror among the people and ensure the reelection of the politician.

In May this year Human Rights Watch published a 71-page report titled ‘One Shot to the Head: Death Squad Killings in Tagum City, Philippines’. It documented interviews with the killers who said they received text messages from the former mayor about whom to kill and when. They got paid as little as a hundred dollars. This week on 11 December we honor Rogelio Butalid, a broadcast commentator, shot at point blank range outside his radio station in Tagum City, Mindanao, just one of many journalist murders over the past ten years by death squads.

No one has been held responsible or accountable for the many deaths. Human rights advocates are calling for a law to hold the local mayors responsible and blame-worthy. They will be penalized by being removed from office for gross incompetence and dereliction of duty for torture and death squad killings in their town or city.

The Amnesty International report on torture is no less horrific. It reports that with the help of local human rights defenders and advocates they interviewed as many as 55 torture victim-survivors, 21 of them were children when abused and tortured. Two victims of torture were then shot and left for dead but miraculously survived.

As many as 36 cases were referred to the Office of the Ombudsman but unsurprisingly none were indicted. The investigating officers were likely to have been threatened with a ‘shot to the head’.

The survivors of torture reported having been beaten, kicked, punched, water-boarded (a near drowning torture technique), nearly suffocated with plastic bags over their heads, given electric shocks, deprived of sleep and forced to take stressful physical squatting. In one videotape, one old man was seen naked with wire tied around his genitalia being pulled by a police officer. The victim was later found beheaded.

Children too have been tortured, starved and killed in jails and prisons that are renamed ‘Juvenile Homes’ where the children are neglected, abused, mistreated and jailed behind bars and metal screens.

A shocking and horrible photo of abused children was taken in the Manila Reception Action Center (RAC), a place described as an Auschwitz-like concentration camp in the heart of Manila five minutes from the office of the Mayor. The photo is that of a boy we named Francisco. His naked, emaciated skeletal body was left thrown on the ground, allegedly left to die without medical help. He was found with facial bruises when rescued by charity workers.

The excuse of the staff is that they had no money to help him, It is difficult not to believe that this is a fabrication. It’s the story line to get more money which is disappearing in mysterious ways and too little going to feed, clothe and support the children. The boy Francisco only had to be given a t-shirt and shorts and taken to the hospital with other children in a similar half-starved condition. The truth is that the money is allegedly misappropriated and the Commission on Audit (COA) need to audit the facility. Also they need a clean, well managed facility in the countryside under the supervision of the trusted office of Secretary Corazon Soliman of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Manila is so rich it could build and maintain two such centers.

Other children too were left in similar conditions. The report documents 21 children who were tortured. All this is difficult to read and comprehend how humans can inflict such terrible cruel torture on children and adults. The psychological torture of threats and fear is equally abhorrent. One thing is clear, we cannot remain inactive, silent, non-supportive and indifferent to these grim realities exposed by children’s rights and human rights defenders working with Amnesty International.

The truth is there for all to see and read .We have to act as best we can to save more victims and put an end to these evil practices. We can help by speaking out, joining campaigns for human rights, join a rally, by taking a stand with victims of illegal detention and children in jails. We can inspire others by showing respect for the rights of others. That’s what Jesus did and taught. That’s why we have Christmas.